DEVELOPING: Reno Air Race spokesman describes crash as “mass casualty situation”

6:07 p.m.: Gov. Brian Sandoval, Mayor Bob Cashell on way out. Another news conference planned at 7 p.m.

6:03 p.m. update: RGJ reporters on the scene of the crash say that a press conference is expected in about 15 minutes at the airport in Stead. More details are expected to be confirmed then.

5:59 p.m. update: A plane plunged into the stands Friday at an air race event in Reno in what an official described as a “mass casualty situation.”

It wasn’t immediately known how many people were killed, but a medical official said more than 75 people were injured.

Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority, said 25 people were critically injured and another 25 people were seriously injured in the crash.

More than 25 more people were treated for minor injuries, she said.
Kruse said the critically injured were considered to have life-threatening injuries.

So far, 40 people have been taken to local hospitals by ambulance and one person has been flown to a hospital, she said.

The P-51 Mustang plunged into the crashed into the box seat area at the front of the grandstand at the National Championship Air Races at about 4:30 p.m., said Mike Draper, a spokesman for the event.

Draper identified the pilot as Jimmy Leeward.

Jeff Martinez, a KRNV weatherman, was just outside the air race grounds at the time of the crash. He said he saw the plane veer to the right and then “it just augered straight into the ground.”

“You saw pieces and parts going everywhere,” he said. “Everyone is in disbelief.”

The National Championship Air Races draws thousands of people every year in September to watch various military and civilian planes race.

The races have attracted scrutiny in the past over safety concerns, including four pilots killed in 2007 and 2008. It was such a concern that local school officials once considered whether they should not allow student field trips at the event.

The competition is like a car race in the sky, with planes flying wingtip-to-wingtip as low as 50 feet off the sagebrush at speeds sometimes surpassing 500 mph. Pilots follow an oval path around pylons, with distances and speeds depending on the class of aircraft. – rgj

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